911 may lease-purchase updated equipment|[7/28/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2005

The budget for E-911 Dispatch Center operations will be revised to include lease-purchase pricing of desired equipment before being OK’d and submitted for funding, commissioners decided Wednesday.

Overall, the center’s new director wants $2.1 million, well over double this year’s $818,668 total allocation.

Center staff answer 911 calls and dispatch appropriate personnel. Voters here approved the city-county agency in 1989. It has been funded by fees paid through phone bills and supplements from Vicksburg and Warren County treasuries.

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Most of the increase is for new equipment that the director, Geoffrey Greetham, said will keep up with technology. “It just hasn’t been funded in a while,” Greetham, hired in March, said in explaining $888,815 in proposed capital spending. Even without the new equipment, the proposed budget increases by $400,000.

District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, also a member of the E-911 commission and president of the county governing board, said lease-purchase pricing should be explored to spread out the impact of the equipment cost over five years.

When completed, the budget will be submitted to city and county officials to approve, reject or modify for the spending year that starts Oct. 1.

McDonald said that if approved without phasing-in the expense, the county might allocate about $347,000 of the revenue it receives from casinos to the total. Other funding could come, in part, from a reserve balance the center has accumulated of $550,000, Greetham’s budget shows. The center requires only about a $50,000 budget cushion of cash, Greetham has said.

Discussion Wednesday also called for an additional $100,000, to go toward raising the number of officer positions at the center from 17 to 20, to come from the county’s general fund.

Greetham said the planned upgrades “will ensure the purchases made now will still be viable five to seven years from now.”

In the document and in comments to commissioners, Greetham attributed worse consequences than he had previously to the continued use of the center’s “current hodgepodge of outdated technology.”

“We’ve got a bunch of brand-new folks,” Greetham said, presenting a graph that showed five of the center’s 16 current officers have been in their jobs for five months or less and just four have at least a year of experience.

Among the center’s responsibilities is to retain recordings of its communications with the public and tasks such as that – with the systems in place now – divert employees’ time and attention from their dispatching duties to a dangerous degree, Greetham said.

“The center’s excessive mix of vendor equipment and software often requires extended time and effort to keep it operating,” Greetham’s budget document says. “This places residents, visitors and law-enforcement lives at risk!”

Greetham also repeated that many of the center’s officers are in desperate need of training in the basics of dispatching and that operating the current systems occupies time that could be spent on that effort instead.

McDonald said he expected the board of supervisors would prefer to pay its anticipated $347,000 over five years. Greetham said he would investigate potential lease-purchase plans and deliver his findings by the end of this week.

Plans are for the upgraded dispatching system to be integrated with digital maps of the city and county. Among its benefits will be to allow cell-phone callers’ locations to be pinpointed to “within 50 to 300 meters in most cases,” Federal Communications Commission information says.

The center’s current system accepts from wireless carriers only the caller’s telephone number and the location of the antenna that relays the call.

The new system is also designed to communicate with electronic positioning devices in vehicles such as patrol cars and ambulances, allowing dispatchers to track the precise location of each vehicle so equipped. Leyens and Sheriff Martin Pace said that they planned to use that feature for at least patrol cars from the city and county law-enforcement agencies and ambulances from the Vicksburg Fire Department.

And the new system is designed to provide communications officers with more case-specific information while communicating with callers, such as software that provides scripted questions to ask and suggests further questions depending on the answers received and entered, Greetham said.

As discussed Wednesday, the budget shows operating expenses of about $1.2 million with $515,174 from fees on phone bills. The balance is, by previous agreement, to be shared, with the 60 percent, $396,687, coming from the city’s general fund and 40 percent from the county’s, $264,458.

In other business Wednesday, the commission unanimously approved a request presented by addressing officer Kenny Staggs Jr. to name Landrum Drive a spur north of Gullett Road, off Hankinson Road in southern Warren County.